This afternoon, I attended a performance by the Hunter Singers. They’re a choir based in the Newcastle region of the Hunter Valley, and are all young people of high school age.
It was truly beautiful. I love choral singing, both to listen to, and to participate in myself. Making music in a group is one of the most delightful things for a singer to do. There’s something about singing with others that transcends singing alone.
Whether it’s simply the sound of massed voices, or the interweaving harmonies and rhythms, I find that singing in a group, singing words and music designed for multiple voices, exhilarates me. This afternoon I was able to sit and relax and just listen as the words and music rolled over me, evoking images and sounds and thoughts.
This afternoon I was able to sit and relax and just listen as the words and music rolled over me, evoking images and sounds and thoughts.The concert featured a new work called ‘Fromelles’ by Paul Jarman. The Hunter Singers are off to France shortly to sing in Fromelles itself. The music was inspired by the battle of Fromelles, and the words and music together were truly evocative.
I got to thinking after the concert. Readers of this blog have probably realised that I spend way too much time thinking, so I apologise, but here I go again.
This time I was thinking about history, and how it helps to define the present. I was also thinking that we can choose to let history define us individually, even if the values we now espouse aren’t particularly consonant with those at the time the history was made.
What I was thinking about primarily, was our history as Australians. Australia’s history is complicated. Indigenous Australians, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, lived in Australia for thousands of years prior to European settlement. They have a long and rich history, which is often not acknowledged or is completely ignored. At least recently, a welcome to country has become more commonplace during formal occasions, acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands.
Australia also has a complex relationship with both the first and second World Wars. The Federation of Australia, when Australia became an independent nation, only occurred on the first of January 1901. At that time, the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Navy were formed.
Because of its close ties with the United Kingdom as a Commonwealth Nation, Australia went to war against Germany in 1914. As a result, over 400,000 men enlisted, and over 60,000 were killed. Many more were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner. The total population of Australia at the time was less than five million.
When you put those figures into context, the deaths and woundings affected nearly the entire population in one way or another. The ANZAC legend was born out of the Gallipoli Campaign and many stories grew up around the fighting across the world. Again, in the Second World War, Australian fought all over the world. Again there were legends born – The Rats of Tobruk, Z Force, the Burma Railway and the prisoner of war camps across Asia.
Much of our history is based on our war time legends, our relationship with Australia’s harsh landscape, and the complexities of being a ‘young’ nation.
While most Australians live in urban areas around the edge of this very dry continent, much of our national identity is also tied up with outback and country legends, and that laconic Australian image so familiar to the rest of the world.
So this afternoon, while listening to the superlative sounds of the Hunter Singers, I began wondering how we individually reconcile our history and sense of identity with how we actually are.
I grew up in the Hills just out of Perth, which means that my upbringing was a combination of country/city. I then moved to the remote Pilbara – the actual outback – where I lived for sixteen years in the wonderful land of red dirt and spinifex. Now I live in country NSW, in the iconic Hunter Valley. It’s a life that’s allowed me to experience all of the richness of living in Australia.
It’s allowed me to look at the legends, compare them to my own sense of Australian-ness, and my own personal identity. Today I wondered how those concepts work for all of us – as clearly we all come from different places, families, backgrounds and heritages. I suppose that’s part of our strength as a nation – we are a hodgepodge of heritages, and hopefully a truly multicultural society.
As you can probably tell, this is me rambling along again, thinking my way through all kinds of stuff, and I haven’t really come to any kind of conclusion, so I think I’ll stop boring you all and keep on thinking a bit more. Have you ever pondered your own cultural identity in the face of your national history? How does it define you? Or does it define you? Many thoughts.